Sherry Rehman: Under pressure
Lahore, Feb. 21 (Agencies): Pakistani police registered an accusation from a businessman today that the country’s ambassador to the US had committed blasphemy, a crime that carries the death penalty, in connection with a 2010 TV talk show.
Police in Multan, Punjab province, registered the case over remarks purportedly made by Sherry Rehman on a TV talk show in 2010.
They were acting on a complaint by businessman Fahim Akhtar Gill who claimed her remarks about the law were blasphemous.
Gill, 31, had earlier filed a petition on the issue in the Supreme Court which directed the police to act according to the law. The case against Rehman was filed under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code which carries the death penalty.
Gill said that he had obtained an edict against Rehman from four clerics and attached it to his petition. “Sherry Rehman had mocked the prophet’s sayings and this cannot be tolerated,” he said.
In his petition, Gill said that Rehman had spoken against the Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, during her appearance on a show aired on the Dunya news channel on November 30, 2010.
Gill said that after the registration of the case at Cheylak police station in Multan, Rehman might not return to Pakistan. Regional police chief Amir Zulifqar put together a three-member team to investigate the case.
Police officials said they had received a video of the talk show and two witnesses — Abdul Qayyum and Shakil Ahmed — had come forward to record their statements.
Earlier, Multan police had refused to register Gill’s complaint against Rehman, a former federal minister and a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Gill then approached the Lahore High Court which asked him to file a complaint in a police station in Islamabad. Later, Gill went to the Supreme Court with his complaint. It ordered the Multan police to investigate.
“I’ve been trying to get this case registered for the last three years, ever since I saw that TV show,”
Gill said. “I’ve even gone to the highest court. I’m glad that action will finally be taken now.”
In 2010, Rehman had faced death threats from militant groups for seeking changes in the blasphemy law. She was forced by the PPP to drop a plan to move a bill in parliament to abolish the death penalty for blasphemy.
Rehman, a former aide of President Asif Ali Zardari, was appointed ambassador to the US in November 2011.
The allegation against Rehman is the latest in a series of controversial blasphemy cases in Pakistan.
Rights groups have said the law is often misused to persecute minorities like Christians and to settle personal scores.
Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were assassinated in 2011 shortly after they called for reforms in the law.
According to the law, anyone found guilty of derogatory remarks against the prophet can be sentenced to death. In several cases, persons accused of blasphemy were lynched by violent mobs.
Blasphemy accusations are on the rise, according to a report released by the Islamabad-based think tank, Centre for Security Studies.
At least 52 people accused of blasphemy have been killed since 1990.
The charge is difficult to defend since blasphemy is not defined and courts often hesitate to hear evidence, fearful that reproducing it will also be blasphemy.
Recent cases have included a teacher who made a mistake setting homework, a man who threw away a business card belonging to a man name Mohammed
Last year, a Christian teenager named Rimsha Masih was arrested after a Muslim cleric falsely accused her of burning pages of the Quran.
The teenager was cleared by a court after it emerged that she may have been framed by a cleric trying to evict Christians from his area. She and her family are now in hiding.